maneuvering through problematic online content

Exploring Mary Meeker’s “Problematic Content”

This is the fourth article in our series addressing the highlights from the 2019 Mary Meeker Report.

It’s difficult to classify “problematic” content these days. Businesses don’t want to censor their consumers’ rights to free speech. However, the risk of promoting radical content (accidentally or not) can be problematic for a brand image. Now, with the sharp increase of name-calling and radicalization on platforms such as YouTube—well, you can start to imagine the difficulties that Meeker outlined in her 2019 report.

Platforms such as Amazon and YouTube have both taken steps to deal with problematic content over the past year. What does this “problematic content” look like, though? How have larger corporations responded to incidents and accusations?

Most importantly, what policies can you put into place to maintain an upright online reputation?


Defining “Problematic Content”

We live in a politically polarized environment. Whichever side of the spectrum you fall on, there are behaviors – and merchandise – that cross a moral line.

Amazon was recently accused of facilitating white supremacy movements by two nonprofit organizations. These organizations discovered that a third-party seller had anti-Semitic merchandise available (books, action figures, baby clothes, you name it). Cue the accusations: according the general public Amazon was failing to take a stand against a strain of deplorable behavior.

With most of the “-isms” – Nazism, racism, sexism, etc – there are generally-accepted boundaries that divide what’s offensive and what’s benign. Accordingly, Amazon’s response to pull all anti-Semitic content from its marketplace makes complete sense.

But what about that first amendment, the freedom of speech? The sellers profiting from such merchandize are now raising noise about their violated rights. Without diving into a conversation about the Constitution and the definition of “protected free speech,” it’s safe to say that third-party sellers and small businesses face a dilemma when considering what they can and can’t sell.


Existing Protective Policies

Mary Meeker notes that this sort of controversy arises even when platforms such as Amazon have anti-discriminatory policies in place. Amazon, for example, disallows merchandise it finds “hateful or offensive” from its marketplace yet still failed to identify active Nazism on its platform.


Much the same can be said of YouTube. The platform’s recently come under fire for promoting not only anti-Semitic beliefs but also active school shootings, in the case of streamer PewDiePie.

It’s been platforms such as Ravelry, a sewing template platform, which have made stronger moves to ban offensive content. In June 2019, Ravelry explicitly banned any content that supported the 45th president of the United States from its platform to promote an environment that was more “accepting and safe” for all hobbyists. Whether you agree with the measure or roll your eyes, it’s one of the most drastic stances an e-commerce platform has made to censor “problematic content.”


Politics and Small Business Owners

Mary Meeker’s 2019 report warns that the Internet may become an even more toxic, political environment in the months to come. You’re unlikely to face as strong of scandals as Amazon, but you’ll still need to learn how to advertise safely in this environment.

If you’re looking to maintain a neutral platform online, you can:


  • Establish your business’s stance on politically charged comments early and in an accessible space. While staying silent may seem easier, having a policy in place to respond to hateful content will prevent greater backlash.
  • Curate the comments you allow on your platform.
  • Block offensive users on social media as your marketing team deems appropriate.
  • Create content that highlights the value of your products independent of political affiliation.

It’s difficult to advocate for neutrality in times such as these. To avoid the predictions of toxicity that Mary Meeker’s 2019 report suggests, small and medium businesses should make an effort to create safe business environments for all potential consumers.



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